Non-practising Anglicans are ideal Reform voters, says data-cruncher on politics and religion

Image credit:

By Ruth Peacock

Researchers who have plotted the political ideas of religious groups say that if Nigel Farage wants to make a pitch for a religious vote, then he should pitch to non-practising Anglicans.

Paul Bickley, head of political engagement at the think tank Theos, has led a team crunching data from the British Electoral Study, the UK’s longest-running social science survey of 30,000 people.

He told a Religion Media Centre briefing that “cultural Anglicans” who do not practise the faith are the most authoritarian and right-leaning group in the survey. He said they were “the ideal Reform voter” — fuelled by a sense of nostalgia.

But practising Anglicans go towards a different political agenda because, he said, religious practice has a formative effect.

“It’s probably about mixing,” he said. “It’s probably about the kind of moral discourse that you would hear in church services, responding well to neighbours, and caring for the poor and vulnerable. It doesn’t immediately change everybody’s minds, but it has a kind of trickle-down effect.”

Theos is producing many reports over the election campaign under the title Religion Counts, looking at issues:

  • Do the religious vote?
  • Who do the religious vote for?
  • Do the religious feel like they can make a difference? 
  • And what are their economic and social values?

The analysis charts where religious groups find themselves on an ideological spectrum, both left and right, but also authoritarian or libertarian.

During the briefing, representatives from different faith traditions explained that as well as the usual issues people vote on — the economy, the NHS, education, housing and employment — religious groups in the UK have additional concerns.

Muslims have traditionally been on the political left, but their historical support for Labour is under threat at this election.

Miqdaad Versi, director for media monitoring at the Muslim Council of Britain, said foreign policy issues were important for Muslims this time, with traditional support for Labour dropping by between 20 and 40 per cent in the aftermath of the Israel-Gaza war. 

Professor Adeela Shafi, founder of the Bristol Muslim Strategic Leadership Group, told the briefing that many Muslims in her region were feeling “politically orphaned”, conflicted in their traditional support for Labour by its response to the situation in Gaza.

This had become a proxy measure for assessing the moral compass of the candidates standing for election, she said. People were becoming more politically aware and literate, inquiring about voting records and individual stands on social issues.

Abubakr Nanabawa, national co-ordinator for the Muslim Vote campaign, said Muslims were still engaged and there was a big push to ensure all were registered to vote. He detected there was more campaigning and activism in the election campaign and a lot more interest in politics, with people seeking candidates to vote for.

The elections in May showed that disaffection with Labour had led Muslims to find alternative parties, including the Greens, Lib Dems or the Workers Party of Britain, or even independent candidates.

Support for Labour is also an issue in the Jewish vote. Daniel Sugarman, director of public affairs at the Board of Deputies, believed some people would feel much more comfortable voting for Labour since 2019, but some were still extremely suspicious of the party.

“I think that, as a whole, the Jewish community feels that they have much more of a choice this time round,” he said, adding that no overwhelmingly obvious alternative in the left-wing space had emerged for Jews who previously voted Labour.

And Jagdev Virdee, editor of the British Sikh report, said there were changes in Labour support, with more under-34s supporting Labour than older generations; and more older people supporting the Conservatives. But the overall support for Labour was still 20 percentage points ahead of the Conservatives, a figure that had stayed consistent since the 2019 election.

Dr Subir Sinha, director of the South Asia Institute at the School of Oriental and African Studies University of London, said there was no “Hindu vote”. Hindus would vote for the key election issues along with the rest of the population. But there were also additional factors.

Hindus, he said, were desegregated along the lines of recent or third-generation immigrants, class, wealth and place of origin. Wealthy Hindus were likely to be more concerned about taxes, racism and immigration and were likely to consolidate the trend of Conservative support which happened from the time of David Cameron onwards. This may lead to some surprising results in the Midlands and London, he predicted.

Rishi Sunak is Hindu, but Dr Sinha suggested that his policies — to clamp down on international students being allowed to bring families across and hold visas for long enough to find a job here — were contentious. However, he was not sure Labour immigration policy would be much different.

Trust in politicians was also examined in the Theos analysis. It found low levels of trust among Muslims and low levels of confidence in their ability to contribute to British politics.

Mr Versi said this came as no surprise and pointed to the “huge problem” of a lack of engagement between both main parties and Muslim organisations, which was “not a good state of affairs”.

He said this led to policies made in isolation affecting communities impacted the most. For example, half of all Muslims lived in the top 10-20 per cent of the most deprived areas of Britain.

“The problem is that the level which Muslim communities have to reach to be able to be an appropriate player, is a level that’s unfairly applied to Muslim communities,” he added.

The briefing ended with an appeal from Tony Goodger, self identified as a follower of faiths, who said the key issue for him was much more personal, relating to social care and the needs of carers such as himself. He trusted Lib Dem leader Sir Ed Davey, who is a carer for his son, and would therefore give him his vote.


Join our Newsletter